Super Mario Galaxy is celebrating its 15th anniversary today, November 12, 2022. Below, we take a look at how its unique setup has given it a special sense of magic that sets it apart from the rest of the world. Other Mario games.
Mario Galaxy offers a melancholy vision of the stars, a far cry from the Saturday morning surrealism of the other games in the series. Of course, it’s unlike its predecessors, and its sequels don’t have their own unique appeal—see Sunshine’s sunbathing or Odyssey’s whirlwind travel. However, Galaxy offers a playful, existential sadness. It scales Mario’s levels beyond kingdoms and history, into (super) physics. Galaxy focuses on the cosmic link between life and death, and the possibility of scattered, unconscious reincarnation.
Sure, other Mario games have flickering shadows, chat with shy enemies on the train or Yoshis left in the abyss. But Mario Galaxy offers something more basic. Its sadness is not a difference in timbre or a joke or a random effect of collision mechanics. The Galaxy is completely set in a vast, dark universe where only specific points of light are habitable. Over time, these bright spots will die and other bright spots will take their place. In short, it’s a universe much like our own, albeit filtered through a bizarrely animated logic.
Explosions also create stars in this world, for example, but it’s from feeding Lumas candies, mystical beings that become stars, planets, and galaxies. Mechanically, this is purely a means of controlling progress. Mario picked up the “star bit” in his travels. If he has enough, he can feed Lumas them to open up a new world. It’s the classic video game slapsticks that give a higher aim to certain interactions or smaller parts of the game.
But the process has more of a thematic accent than the star under the door. When a Luma turns into a galaxy, they are no longer a cute little star guy. They become earth, sand, water, space – even other life forms. It’s a kind of death. When I was a kid, I was hesitant to give Luma’s family candy, because it meant they weren’t there anymore. However, that death creates a different kind of life. By implication, all of the Galaxy worlds were once these child stars. From tiny worlds harboring dancing bunnies to a giant honeycomb garden, luma has shaped the matter that makes them up. A star dies, matter expands, the universe keeps spinning forward.
The game conveys a lot of these themes through Rosalina, a heavenly mother who guides and teaches newborn stars to eventually become galaxies. She also guides Mario, bringing him under her protection as he lands on her spaceship. Mario talks to her whenever he completes certain levels, and she is frequently present around the game’s hubs. However, you learn the most about Rosalina in her library when she reads a storybook aloud. The story is about how Rosalina came to take care of Lumas. When she was a little girl in a distant world, a Luma looking for her mother found her and the two flew into the stars.
Over time, Rosalina became the mother of many Lumas that she helped in her journey. It’s a kind of god, but chosen instead of ascending or giving birth. Here, being a god isn’t exactly about power or creativity; it’s a role. Luma’s search for her mother confirms that there may have been other people in a similar position, but they either died or were unable to do the job. However, from that death, there was a possibility that another person could fulfill those necessary obligations. After finding her purpose, Rosalina travels with Lumas “while they search for a place to be reborn.” She stands between life and death, overseeing the transformation to make the stars come true.
While this is really heavy and metaphysical, Mario Galaxy’s cosmic scale is usually small. Rosalina herself continued the storybook journey because she missed her mother. At the climax of the book, she realizes her mother’s death and also the life her relationship with her mother has created. It is a simple love that stretches across the universe, touching the lives of individuals in turn. Although the role is cosmic, its reality is simply that of parenthood. Various centers divided into sets Galaxy levels are mostly mundane locations: a bedroom, a fountain, a kitchen, and a garden. Mario is a guest on this ship, which feels more like a home than anything else.
Galaxy combines that mundaneity with its galactic scale. “It’s good to honor the stars,” Carl Sagan speaking on Cosmos, “because we are their children.” Because sunlight feeds plants, which in turn nourishes all animal life, we are indeed nourished by the stars. Mario Galaxy is a game about that kind of poetry. It turns the stars into children, transforming the universe into human cycles of birth and death.
It seems a bit silly to talk about the Mario game this way, but I think that sillyness is the key to the game’s buzz. After all, much of life is silly and frivolous. We also have egotistical queen bees, scaredy rabbits that are hard to catch, lost children in need of some candy and a hug. We live and die, poop and eat in a blue blob in the vastness of space. Our lives feel important, but very small. On the grand scale of things, big things like planets and ecosystems seem so trivial. However, these tiny beings are closely related to the stars that make them. We too, live and die, are born and reborn. Our death gives meaning to the life that will come before us, just as the death of the countless stars that made up the matter of which we are made. The fact that people, animals and plant life are all present here is a marvel of numbers that cannot be duplicated anywhere else. It’s a lonely universe. But it’s lit by flashing lights and our connection to one another.
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